Regarding VNDS.

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#1 by poudink
2021-02-15 at 16:20
< report >Recently, I've been adding VNDS releases to this database. However, a few hours ago I stumbled across this seven years old thread. In it, people debated on whether VNDS releases should be kept in the database or not. Despite the general concensus seemingly being that VNDS should be treated like emulation and VNDS releases should thus be removed, VNDS releases appear to have been kept, since there were quite a few of them already present when I joined. This is a follow up to that thread, with the goal of reaching a conclusive answer to the question posed by the original thread. In this post, I will defend the position that VNDS is fundamentally different from emulation and should be treated differently. I will also clear up misconceptions and misunderstandings from the original thread and discuss how I think VNDS releases should be handled.

First, I'll explain what VNDS is for those unfamiliar with it. VNDS is a DS homebrew application developed by Jake around 2008 that can read visual novels made with a custom scripting language that he created. The simplicity of the format and low level of difficulty for programming illiterates made it somewhat popular and a few big name visual novels such as Fate/Stay Night, Tsukihime, Narcissu and Ever17 -The Out of Infinity- were ported to the platform. Jake was later joined by anonl, who was also responsible for making the VNDS converters for Fate/Stay Night, Ever17 -The Out of Infinity-, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and a few more. These converters translated the scripts to the VNDS scripting language and converted the audio and graphics to the formats VNDS used. He was also the first person to make VNDS interpreters on other platforms, making one for Android devices. This allowed VNDS to become fairly well known outside of the DS homebrew community, because many people were interested in being able to play novels like Fate/Stay Night on their phones. There are currently around 60 VNDS visual novels available.

It is pretty easy to draw parallels between VNDS and emulation. Much like ROMs, VNDS novels require external software to be used and through ports of said software to different platforms, can be played on a multitude of different platforms. These platforms include the DS, Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS, Linux, the Switch, the PSP, the Playstation Vita, web browsers and also to some extent (though the interpreter isn't quite complete) the 3DS.

There are, however, major differences between VNDS and emulation. Emulation allows playing existing official releases of visual novels on platforms on which they were not initially intended to be played through emulation of the hardware for which the release was originally made available. In other words, emulators always boils down to picking an emulator of a certain platform and playing any game that was released on said platform using the emulator. In other words, you're playing a release that is already listed in VNDB, simply on another platform from the one listed. There is no need to include emulation in the platforms for the release because everyone already knows emulation exists and it would cause a lot of unecessary bloat with the platforms on which the visual novel is considered to be available on by VNDB. VNDS, however, is different. Firstly, VNDS interpreters do not allow launching the executables from any official releases of visual novel (unless said visual novel was originally made for VNDS, of course). They have to be converted to the VNDS format. Think of it like converting an NScripter visual novel into a RealLive visual novel. The converted product is different from the original product. It's a recreation of the original product made by replicating the original script on a different engine as accurately as possible. That would usually be listed as a separate release on VNDB. Converters like the ones made by anonl merely automate that process. Secondly, because VNDS doesn't emulate anything, visual novels that were originally released as VNDS novels are most of the time only playable on VNDS interpreters, since there's no "original hardware" like is the case with emulators. This includes Addendum, Hurricane R4, Lara's Escape and Шепотки. If VNDS releases are removed, these visual novels won't have any releases left, and may not be able to be added to the database.

It's worth noting that despite what I said earlier and despite the way it is currently treated in the database, VNDS isn't an engine, but rather a format. Think of it like a PDF document. You can't do much with a PDF file on its own. To read it, you need a PDF reader program. There are PDF reader programs available for multiple platforms, but those programs don't necessarily share the same engine. They simply share the ability to decode PDF files. VNDS is the same way. The reason I chose to treat VNDS as an engine when making releases was because that seemed to be the closest thing VNDB had available to what VNDS actually is.

VNDS is for sure an unique way of making, playing and distributing visual novels. There's nothing quite like it. VNDS novels aren't executables in the same way people are used to, but are instead files that must be read by an interpreter program. It makes sense that people wouldn't quite know what to do with it in the context of this database. However, excluding them would undoubtedly be a mistake. VNDS novels are still full fledged visual novels. This database cannot be considered complete if VNDS novels are excluded.

A problem that has already started to arise with VNDS releases has to do with platforms. Initially, all VNDS releases on VNDB were marked as Android + DS releases, due to them beign the only platforms with VNDS interpreters. That's two platforms. That's fine. That is no longer the case, though, and now there are many, many more. A whopping ten of them, eleven if you count the 3DS. Listing all of them under a release results in having simply far too many platforms. The way that would make the most sense to fix this issue in my opinion is for VNDS itself to be considered a platform. VNDS novels wouldn't need to have "VNDS" as engine anymore, since they'd already have it as platform, which I also think describes VNDS better. The platform of a visual novel is the piece of hardware (or operating system) that is capable of launching its executable. In the case of VNDS, this corresponds to the interpreter, so VNDS itself could be considered a platform. You may think that adding an entire platform to the list is a bit overkill, but there are 58 visual novels in total that have had VNDS releases. That's more than the NES (43), the PC Engine (45), the SNES (23), the PC-FX (21), the GBC (20), the GBA (43), the Xbox (9), the Xbox 360 (50), the Wii (20), the Wii U (8) and the Xbox One (34). All of those platforms have a spot in the list and many of them have a far smaller visual novel library than VNDS does, and there just so happens to be an annoying blank spot in the platforms list between "Website" and "Apple iProduct", so I think it may not be too bad of an idea to add VNDS as a platform. Otherwise, the platform can be set to "Other", though that's far from ideal.

This was a long post to write. I probably made it far too long, but oh well. I'd like to end things off by saying that I have made over the course of many hours of looking through archived forum threads from the now dead VNDS site and google translating my way through russian sites a complete list of VNDS visual novels. If you exclude (AA) Walkthrough VNDS and VNDS-TEST, there are 58 of them, so if you want to try things out yourself, there's more than enough material to go off of. You can play them on PC using VNDS-LOVE.
#2 by yorhel
2021-02-15 at 17:08
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If VNDS releases are removed, these visual novels won't have any releases left, and may not be able to be added to the database.
The engine or platform has never been a criteria for the inclusion of VNs - if it's playable as a VN it can be in the database.

Converters like the ones made by anonl merely automate that process
And here's the crux: how much effort is involved in the conversion? If the conversion is totally automatic and supports (most) VNs written in a particular engine, then we're in the same situation as emulators. The technical process may be different, but ultimately the user still just runs a (non-game-specific) external tool to play the VN. In that case there's no point in adding the VNDS conversion to the releases as you can use the engine filter to find VNs that may be playable on VNDS.

Of course, if the conversion to VNDS takes manual effort and users can't really be expected to do that themselves, then it makes sense to add the conversions as release.

A problem that has already started to arise with VNDS releases has to do with platforms.
This is a good point and needs to be addressed if we have more VNDS releases. But it has no bearing on whether VNDS conversions should be added as releases in the first place.

EDIT: Also, VNDS conversions of commercial games do not require owning the original game to play, right? In that case they're blatant piracy and it's a somewhat grey area whether we even can link to them.Last modified on 2021-02-15 at 17:12
#3 by beliar
2021-02-15 at 17:21
< report >I actually see Poudink's point. There is some difference between what VNDS does and "proper" emulation, which takes a verbatim release and runs it on a piece of software. Here you actually have to transform the game into the VNDS edition.

I'd say the closest thing to VNDS we have in the db is ViLE, which was a wraparound program for running Nocturnal Illusion and May Club advanced versions, and that one specialized program for running Divi-Dead on multiple consoles.

The biggest problem with VNDS indeed lies in platforms, as the addition of new supported platforms to VNDS does not translate directly to the timeframe the game become playable on that platform. The fact Fate/Stay Night VNDS entry states the game supported Switch back in 2008 does not make it so, as neither the program supported that platform at the time, nor the platform itself existed yet. The support was added later, however creating separate entries for when each game became supported would be simply too much, and would flood game entries with redundant data.

However, I don't think creating a platform entry for what is basically a fancy emulator is an answer either. Hence, VNDS poses a bit of a problem.Last modified on 2021-02-15 at 17:32
#4 by poudink
2021-02-15 at 17:27
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The engine or platform has never been a criteria for the inclusion of VNs - if it's playable as a VN it can be in the database.
Ah, that makes sense.
And here's the crux: how much effort is involved in the conversion? If the conversion is totally automatic and supports (most) VNs written in a particular engine, then we're in the same situation as emulators - the technical process may be different, but ultimately the user still just runs a (non-game-specific) external tool to play the VN. In that case there's no point in adding the VNDS conversion to the releases as you can use the engine filter to find VNs that may be playable on VNDS.
anonl has an article on creating converters link
I haven't made a converter myself, but I remember seeing anonl answer a similar question. Converters are game specific. It's impossible to make an engine-wide VNDS converter. Someone attempted to make one for NScripter once, but it failed. VNDS has many limitations due to being a fairly minimalist format, so missing features have to be worked around on a game-by-game basis. From what anonl was saying, converters can take anywhere between 10 hours and 40 hours to make. Furthermore, many VNDS novels are manually converted without the use of any converter software. Only anonl's and Synthicify's VNDS ports are distributed as converters programs.
This is a good point and needs to be addressed if we have many VNDS releases. But it has no bearing on whether VNDS conversions should be added as releases in the first place.
Of course, that particular point was asuming VNDS releases were accepted.
EDIT: ninja'dLast modified on 2021-02-15 at 17:28
#5 by yorhel
2021-02-17 at 15:23
< report >I see no issue with adding either the convertors themselves as "patch" releases (if easy to run by the user) or the converted end result as "standalone" releases if there's indeed significant per-game effort involved in the creation of those conversions, as you say.

As for the platform issue: I agree that VNDS should eventually be considered a platform on its own, in much the same way as we have web browsers and dvd players as a platform. But for now I think they're a little too niche for that.

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